Posted by Reese Kaplan at 10:00 AM
Sometimes we get so close to a problem that we can’t step back and see it the way less biased eyes view the exact same tableau. For all of the euphoria surrounding the surprising re-acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, it’s amazing to look back just a year ago and see how far this franchise has really come.
In the 2014/2015 off-season the team was at the proverbial crossroads. The young pitching was getting ready for the big time with the return of Matt Harvey, the Rookie-of-the-Year in Jacob de Grom and the continuing maturation of Zack Wheeler. Throw young veteran Jon Niese and the ageless Bartolo Colon into the mix, and the starting rotation had all the earmarks of being championship caliber. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the post-season. Zack Wheeler picked up where Matt Harvey had gone the year prior – to the operating room. This year was not starting off well at all.
Then the bullpen was hit with its own multitude of injuries with former closer Bobby Parnell and surprisingly effective lefthander Josh Edgin were both on the shelf. Late season additions in 2014 Buddy Carlyle was not healthy and Dana Eveland was nowhere to be found. Oh well, they still had flashy fireman Jenrry Mejia there to take the ball in every ninth inning. Well, that lasted all of about a week. Mejia was nailed for PED usage and Jeurys Familia was going to be pushed into the closer’s role out of necessity, the third man on the depth chart, mind you, behind both Parnell and Mejia. There were no lefties for the pen until some 11th hour trades brought Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres into the fold.
On the offensive side of the ledger, things were similarly in disarray. Lucas Duda was coming off a 30 HR season and seemed a lock to lead the offense. Daniel Murphy was penciled in for his usual slew of doubles while hitting .289 and making countless mental and baserunning gaffes. Newcomer Michael Cuddyer was hoped to bring his batting title caliber offense to Queens. Juan Lagares was fresh off a Gold Glove season and looked to have turned the corner enough on hitting to warrant his long term deal to the tune of a $23 million contract extension.
After that were a myriad of question marks. Curtis Granderson was often nicknamed Curtis Bay during his lackluster first year in a Mets uniform given his less than stellar output. Travis d’Arnaud looked like the real deal with the bat but appeared to be made of glass with more time spent on the DL than on the field. David Wright had devolved from face of the franchise into someone on a first-name basis with every doctor on the eastern seaboard. Then there was the seemingly never ending shortstop saga which had been proposed to be solved by swapping untested rookie Noah Syndegaard for Arizona Diamondbacks’ glove man Didi Gregorius. After finally tiring of the replacement level play of Ruben Tejada, they were going into 2015 with Wilmer Flores manning the middle infield alongside Daniel Muprhy.
As the season began it quickly became apparent that scoring runs was going to be even more challenging than it had been in the recent albeit painful past. Cuddyer, Wright, d’Arnaud and Lagares all performed well below expectations. Duda was streaky and was a tick under his 2014 breakout year. Newly acquired bench piece John Mayberry, Jr. was making people long for the productivity of the last lightning-in-a-bottle acquisition, Chris Young. The Mets’ entire bench was hitting under .200 for much of the first half of the season and at one point in June they featured 3 sub-Mendoza hitters in the starting lineup. At the time the team batting average was a paltry .235.
Of course, we all saw what happened when the influx of talent arrived…gone were the Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s, Eric Campbells, Danny Munos, John Mayberrys and the like. In their place were professional hitters like Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. The pitching rotation was fortified by Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. The bullpen solidified with Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed.
As the team begins Spring Training in preparation for the 2016 season, there are precious few questions to be answered. Yes, they’d like to see more health for some of the chronically injured players. They’d like the eventual returns of Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin to be fruitful. The team could use some more speed and some more defense, but there’s probably enough offense there, coupled with the outstanding pitching, to give them a legitimate shot to win every game. Much of the dead weight has been expunged. Even last year’s 16 HR shortstop has been relegated to a bench role which indicates just how far the team has come in terms of strength of their roster.
What a difference a year makes!